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Sunday 2 October 2011

Why luvvies should stick to the day job

The American presidential race is far from a black and white issue, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I’M keen on free speech, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish luvvies would think twice before they open their mouths about politics.

In the UK, we’ve recently had to endure Vanessa Redgrave talking drivel about the Dale Farm Travellers. In the US, that equally fine actor, Morgan Freeman, showed himself just as ill-informed when he explained earnestly on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight that “the Tea Partiers who are controlling the Republican party” are racist. What underlined their publicly stated policy “to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term” was “screw the country.

We're going to do whatever we do to get this black man... outta here.” This view might have been a bit more convincing had Herman Cain, who is much blacker than Freeman, not topped the Florida Republican Party straw poll the following day, after steadily gaining Tea Party hearts and minds in a series of debates. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, to a chauffeur and a cleaner, Cain graduated as a computer scientist, worked on ballistics in the Department of the Navy, joined Coca Cola as a business analyst and has had a successful business career.

He speaks eloquently of fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility and hard work and condemns those African- Americans who unthinkingly support Democrats and assume conservatives are racist. “I doubt if Morgan Freeman, with all due respect, who is a great actor, has ever been to a Tea Party,” said Cain. “Most of the people that are criticising the Tea Parties about having a racist element, they have never been to a Tea Party.”

Obama’s first book was Dreams from my Father; Cain’s was Leadership is Common Sense. Republicans think Obama is academic, aloof, indecisive, pointlessly profligate with taxpayers’ money, given to left-wing nostrums that do no good to anyone and hasn’t a clue how to run the country; they’re aching for someone competent who doesn’t dismiss them as hardhearted bigots for believing in prudence and a small state.

But all is not plain sailing with the 66-year-old Cain, who has had cancer of the liver and the colon; voters may worry if taking on possibly the most stressful political job in the world might bring it back. Your average Tea Partier must be feeling pretty desperate as their favourites hit the ground. Sarah Palin is so sick of vicious media attention and its effect on her family that she has all but officially pulled out of the race for the nomination. The Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, who would have been an outstanding candidate, won’t run because his family won’t let him.

Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, has charisma, but weighs 20 stone, seems to lack the necessary drive for the job and keeps saying he won’t stand. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann soared, but fell when her stridency seemed to repel voters and Rick Perry won over many of her supporters. Perry has the opposite problem from Daniels — a wife so pushy she may be annoying voters. “I was quite comfortable and happy being the governor of the state of Texas,” he confided recently, “and as she shared with me, ‘You know, you're reasonably good at it’. But she said: ‘You do not have the privilege to stand on the sidelines. Our country is in trouble and you have to do your duty’. And so, honey, I want to say thank you for prodding me across the line.”

Perry is sliding as aspects of his record fail to live up to his claims, and Republicans grasp that his religious fundamentalism (he believes, for instance, in intelligent design) and his enthusiasm for capital punishment repels the middle ground. Running level with Cain and Perry is that old stager Mitt Romney, an ex-Governor of Massachusetts, who has the misfortune of having introduced health-care reform that closely resembled the Obama measures loathed by tens of millions of Americans and soon to be challenged in the Supreme Court. He is also a Mormon and dull. As an American friend emailed me, “Romney is not likely to defeat Obama, even in his own New England, but has a fatal case of what is known as Potomac Fever; he wants the presidency so badly it is embarrassing.”

The dramatic moment of last week came when Bev Perdue, Democratic Governor of North Carolina, told a Rotary Club meeting that it might be good for the country if the 2012 Congressional elections were suspended for two years. To conservative Americans, this is a confirmation of how contemptuous the left is of the Constitution the right reveres. Obama is unpopular: the right thinks he’s wrecking the economy; liberals, African-Americans and Latinos complain he hasn’t delivered for them.

The election is there to be won. Whether the Republican Party can come up with the goods is another matter.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards